Ex-CIA Chief Defends Hiding Torture Evidence, But We Need to Know the Truth

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It feels like we have been here before. Another testosterone-fueled memoir from a charter member of President Bush’s torture team unapologetically seeks to justify the unjustifiable with inflated claims of attacks thwarted and secret battles won.

Latest to the plate is Jose Rodriguez, former Head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, and the man charged with implementing the application of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) to detainees that fell into the CIA’s clutches after 9/11.

Rodriguez was not always quite so willing to boast about his handiwork. In 2005 he destroyed 92 videotapes of high value detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri being water-boarded at secret CIA prisons in Thailand.

At the time Rodriguez justified his action to CIA Director Porter Goss by telling him that the tapes would make the CIA “look terrible; it would be devastating to us.”

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Bush-Era Memo Raises New Questions About Torture and Accountability

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Last weekend the State Department released a draft copy of a highly critical internal memo about the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that had long since been believed lost to posterity.

The draft, written by State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow in 2006, was uncovered by a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the former Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman. The final memo had been considered so explosive that the Bush administration instructed every single copy be collected and destroyed.

The memo was prepared in response to the passage of new legislation through Congress – the McCain amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act – that prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading (CID) treatment or punishment. There was no way for the Bush administration to avoid the need to reevaluate the CIA black site program against a CID standard.

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Friends, Neighbors and the Fight Against Torture

Many Amnesty International members have long experience with the challenge of opposing state-sponsored torture in other countries.  But when human rights activists in North Carolina found that a trail of torture led to their own backdoor, they learned that talking to neighbors about human rights abuses is just as difficult as challenging a foreign government.

The Washington Post last week featured a story, “Hangar 3′s Mystery” about the work of North Carolina Stop Torture Now to document the activities of a small, nominally private air charter company, Aero Contractors,  whose headquarters are at an airfield in Smithfield, North Carolina.

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Mapping CIA Black Sites

AGM Countdown: In the run up to Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting in New Orleans this weekend, the Science for Human Rights program will be posting a new blog entry every day this week. All of the projects presented this week—and many more—will be at display in New Orleans.

In its most extensive study of secret detention practices to date, the UN released a 222-page report on the practice of secret detention in dozens of countries. The report was to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March but the Council has agreed to postpone the discussion until June. The detailed study conducted by four independent UN human rights experts accuses the Bush administration of utilizing practices in severe violation of international law.

Map of US secret detention facilities, based on information provided by a recent UN Human Rights Council report. (c) Amnesty International. Producend by AAAS. CLICK TO SEE FULL MAP

Map of US secret detention facilities, based on information provided by a recent UN Human Rights Council report. (c) Amnesty International. Produced by AAAS. CLICK TO SEE FULL MAP

Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. began to limit and remove mechanisms protecting human rights in the context of the Global War on Terror. Lumping the United States with the likes of Stalin and Pinochet, the study cites the U.S. practices as an “unprecedented departure” from established international humanitarian and human rights law, specifically pointing to the Geneva Convention.

The report focuses on the CIA run secret detention facilities and the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on high value detainees.  While the U.S. has generally refused to disclose the locations of these facilities, the specifics have slowly leaked out.  The study found evidence confirming CIA “black sites” in 20 locations around the world, including Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Kosovo.

During the operation of these sites, the U.S. used secret flight plans, charter aircraft and subcontracting agreements to remove evidence of U.S. government involvement. Individual case reports have begun to fill in the missing details of the locations and use of enhanced interrogation techniques at these secret detention sites. Amnesty International has created a visual representation of the UN study mapping the locations of the reported secret detention sites.

Shahna Esber contributed  to this blog.